Stephen reviews: A Letter To Momo (2012)

11180762_800A Letter to Momo [ももへの手紙 Momo e no Tegami] (2012)

Starring Karen Miyama, Toshiyuki Nishida, Cho, Kouichi Yamadera, Yuka, Takeo Ogawa, Katsuki Hashimoto, Kota Fuji, Daizaburo Arakawa

Directed by Hiroyuki Okiura

While watching this film I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something familiar about it. I couldn’t figure it out until later when I looked up its director, at which point I realized that it was all done by the same guy who made Jin-Roh. Suddenly that familiarity made sense, and the resemblance in the character design (also Okiura’s job in both films) became apparent. But, man, you couldn’t pick two more different films if you tried, and this perhaps better than anything showcases the changes of the anime industry over the past decade. Jin-Roh is a cynical dystopian thriller filled with violence and brutality. A Letter to Momo is a sweet family film filled with sunshine and humor. It’s as if Quentin Tarantino suddenly directed a Disney film.

The ’80s saw the rise of more mature anime, and the films of the time reflected the new freedom from television censorship that theatrical and direct-to-video releases allowed. This era gave us a lot of violent classics like Fist of the North Star, Akira, and Ghost in the Shell. Now, however, the industry has realized that having a more kid-friendly rating on a film opens it up to a wider audience, and potentially larger sales. So now we’ve gotten much lighter fare like Wolf Children, 5 Centimeters Per Second, and now A Letter to Momo, which is a style that was previously rare outside of Ghibli films (unless we go way, way back to before Ghibli was even founded). I love all those old violent crazy films, but it’s kinda hard to hate on the new direction the industry is headed when they have consistently made entertaining films. A Letter To Momo may not be the greatest thing ever, but it still succeeds at being a charming family film that gives you the warm fuzzy feeling that family films are supposed to have.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: A Letter To Momo (2012) →

Stephen reviews: Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (1999)

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade [人狼, Jinrō] (1999)
AKA Man-Wolf (Literal translation of the Japanese title)

Starring Yoshikatsu Fujiki, Sumi Muto, Hiroyuki Kinoshita, Yoshisada Sakaguchi

Directed by Hiroyuki Okiura

This is actually the third film of a trilogy, but before you start walking out on me, you ought to know that the trilogy actually goes in backwards order with the first film taking place after the other two. I had no idea this film was part of a series until I started writing up this review. The first two films, The Red Spectacles in 1987 and Stray Dog: Kerberos Panzer Cops in 1991, were live action, making Jin-Roh the only anime film in the series. It is also the only film not directed by Mamoru Oshii, the creator of the series, though he is best known for directing the 1995 Ghost in the Shell film.

A grim and terrible mood fills this anime. It can’t be called a dystopian future, mainly because it’s not in the future. It does feature an oppressive government regime ruling with its fists over a disenfranchised populace, so I suppose we should call it a dystopian past. Mamoru Oshii, who still wrote the script even if he didn’t direct this time, was politically active in his youth, and this film seems to portray the future he was afraid Japan would turn into. After entering the film industry, Oshii used that feared future as the setting for his series, nevermind that it’s now in the past.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (1999) →

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